Rodney Guptill gets his first dose of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday from paramedic Dan Brown at the Turner Fire Department clinic. Guptill is the former chief of the Turner Fire Department and had to postpone his first dose so he could undergo surgery. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON – Only two other metropolitan areas in the entire country have a higher daily average of new COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks than Lewiston-Auburn.

Lewiston-Auburn has an average of 71 new cases per 100,000 residents per day, according to data published Tuesday in The New York Times. That means that on average, 77 people have tested positive for the disease every day over the past two weeks.

Only Muskegon and Flint, both cities in Michigan, have a higher daily average and L-A is only one of three cities in the top 20 highest-ranking cities in the nation not in Michigan. The other two are in Oregon and Illinois.

For comparison, over the past two weeks New York City (69th), Boston (159th) and Los Angeles (582nd) have recorded an average of 30.3, 19.6 and 3.7 new cases per 100,000 residents, respectively.

There have been 1,077 new cases in the L-A area in the past 14 days, according to The New York Times.

“It absolutely dumbfounds me on why our numbers are up,” Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque said Wednesday. “I have not seen a single person unmasked in Auburn in, I mean, literally months.”

Auburn City Safety Director Matthew Fifield said that compliance with safety protocols is high among businesses and the general public.

“What we have noticed as of late is there seems to be more transmission in situations that we had not seen in the past,” Fifield said. “Some medical professionals have hinted at possible variants being the cause of this change,” and that the highly contagious nature of some of the variants may be leading to increased community spread.

“During the winter we saw situations where a smaller number of family members may contract COVID-19 within a particular home and today other families are seeing the entire home contracting COVID-19,” he said.

City officials from Lewiston did not return a request for comment.

William Wallace, a lecturer at Bates College in Lewiston and a member of the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee, said he believes the fact that vaccination eligibility for Mainers under 50 only opened this month and community spread through social events are driving new cases.

“I think it’s probably those gatherings that are taking place on weekends or evenings where groups of people get together, not from their own family pod, and they’re spreading and contracting the virus,” Wallace said.

At Bates College, three unsanctioned social gatherings preceded a large outbreak and a two-week campus shutdown. The latest round of testing found only one new case, a staff member. There are two active cases among students and two among staff, including the new positive case, according to the college’s dashboard. A total of 124 members of the Bates community have recovered from COVID-19.

Wallace, who is also an assistant swimming coach, said he knew that at least one of the student gatherings was a birthday party and suspected there might have been about 10 kids in attendance.

“I think the kids probably felt awfully bad about that,” he said.

Androscoggin and Oxford counties are trailing behind the statewide average for vaccine administrations. Statewide, 55.2% of all eligible Mainers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 43.6% have received their final dose.

In Androscoggin County, 48.4% of those eligible have gotten one dose and 37.1% have received their final inoculation. In Oxford County, 45.9% and 35.7% have gotten their first and final shots, respectively.

Turner Fire/Rescue held its third vaccine clinic this week, with Chief Lisa Bennett saying earlier this week reception has been positive.

“It’s pretty great, people are excited to get the shot,” she said. Last week’s clinic was canceled due to the pause on Johnson & Johnson vaccine administrations.

“It was a month and a half before we saw any of our vaccines,” but supply has been steady, sans the J&J interruption.

Meanwhile, the seven-day average of new cases in Androscoggin County has sustained its downward trend at 61.7 cases Tuesday, which is a significant drop from the all-time peak on April 20 when the average was 90.4 cases.

Oxford County’s seven-day average is also trending downward from an average of 33 cases on April 20 to Tuesday’s 24-case average.

State health officials reported 261 new cases statewide Wednesday, including 45 in Androscoggin County and 19 in Oxford County. There was one death, a woman in her 80s from Piscataquis County.

Androscoggin County’s cumulative case rate is still highest in the state at 657.2 cases per 10,000 people, according to statistics from the Maine CDC published Wednesday. Oxford County ranks third, with 554.5 cases per 10,000 people and Franklin County sixth, with 405.7 cases. The statewide average is 453.5 cases per 10,000.

As of Wednesday, the Maine CDC is investigating 26 outbreaks in Androscoggin and Oxford counties. That list includes 19 schools, four assisted living facilities, a commercial printing facility, a paper mill and a church.

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